Learned Germans had proved that in England, "the mother of modern Constitutionalism," it was on local self-government that the political liberties were founded, and the Slavophils now suggested that by means of an ancient institution called the Zemski Sobor, the Zemstvo might gradually and naturally acquire a political character in accordance with Russian historic development.
The idea of a Zemski Sobor was discarded as insufficient for the necessities of the situation, and strong speeches were made in support of a much more democratic constitution. It was thus becoming clearer every day that between the Liberals and the Government there was an essential difference which could not be removed by ordinary concessions.
We may say, therefore, that the Zemski Sobor was merely consultative and had no legislative power; but we must add that it was allowed a certain initiative, because it was permitted to submit to the Tsar humble petitions regarding anything which it considered worthy of attention.
While admitting that the Government in its present bureaucratic form is unsatisfactory and stands in need of being enlightened by the unofficial classes, they think that a Consultative Assembly on the model of the old Zemski Sobors would be infinitely better suited to Russian wants than a Parliament such as that which sits at Westminster.
Reform or Revolution? Reigns of Alexander II. and Nicholas II. Compared and Contrasted The Present Opposition Various Groups The Constitutionalists Zemski Sobors The Young Tsar Dispels Illusions Liberal Frondeurs Plehve's Repressive Policy Discontent Increased by the War Relaxation and Wavering under Prince Mirski Reform Enthusiasm The Constitutionalists Formulate their Demands The Social Democrats Father Gapon's Demonstration The Socialist-Revolutionaries The Agrarian Agitators The Subject-Nationalities Numerical Strength of the Various Groups All United on One Point Their Different Aims Possible Solutions of the Crisis Difficulties of Introducing Constitutional Regime A Strong Man Wanted Uncertainty of the Future.
The desire, which had previously from time to time been expressed timidly and vaguely in loyal addresses to the Tsar, that a central Zemstvo Assembly, bearing the ancient title of Zemski Sobor, should be convoked in the capital and endowed with political functions, was now put forward by the representatives in plain unvarnished form. Whether this desire is destined to be realised time will show.
Of these requirements the last two are considered by far the most important. The truth is that the educated classes have come to be possessed of an ardent desire for genuine parliamentary institutions on a broad, democratic basis, and neither improvements in the bureaucratic organisation, nor even a Zemski Sobor in the sense of a Consultative Assembly, would satisfy them.
Alexander II. might have adopted this Slavophil idea and used the Zemski Sobor as a means of transition from pure autocracy to a more modern system of government, but he had no sooner created the Zemstvo than he thought it necessary, as we have seen, to clip its wings, and dispel its political ambition.
Thus a great social revolution can be successfully accomplished, and any Zemski Sobor or Parliament which may be convoked will merely have to give a legislative sanction to accomplished facts. These three groups the Liberals, the Social Democrats, and the Socialist Revolutionaries constitute what may be called the purely Russian Opposition.